The instrumentalists that make up the Brooklyn-based soul group Menahan Street Band have recently come together again on the West Coast while on tour with soul singer Charles Bradley. The group, which is also the official house band for Dunham Records, consists of multi-instrumentalist and cofounder Thomas Brenneck, drummer and cofounder Homer Steinweiss, bassist Nick Movshon, trumpeter Dave Guy and saxophonist Leon Michels. The Menahan Street Band will be performing backup for Bradley during his performance in Royce Hall on Thursday. Daily Bruin’s Andrea Seikaly spoke with Brenneck in anticipation of this upcoming show.
Daily Bruin: You started your career in the early 2000s. What has your experience in the music industry been like so far?
Thomas Brenneck: We met Charles (Bradley) about 11 years ago and we started working together then. But it really wasn’t until five years later when I started the Menahan Street Band that Charles’ and my friendship really started to come through the music and we started to write songs with serious depth that was coming from Charles’ life stories.
And then you fast forward five years later, which puts us at about right now. It took us maybe two years to record Charles’ first record which came out in Janurary 2011. That record came out to much more success than I think anyone really anticipated, and we spent a year traveling and touring. We just recorded another record to be released next year for Charles and we recorded another Menahan instrumental record last summer that just came out Oct. 30 … We are all looking forward to doing a proper tour of the West Coast with the full Menahan squad and with Charles Bradley.
DB: How did you form the Menahan Street Band?
TB: That group came together around 2002 when I got involved with the whole Daptone (Records) scene. There were two really important bands going on at the time that led to a couple other bands … All of us were playing together in at least one group. We were the younger guys in this whole scene. A lot of guys were in their 30s and 40s and we were just turning 21, so we were really young. I had been writing songs that I thought were worth recording, and I started recording them in my apartment. When I needed a band to flush out these ideas, I just called on the guys who I was used to playing music with. It was really easy for me to just call my really good friends and record some music. All of these guys are super creative and phenomenally talented. That’s kind of how the band came together ““ they were helping me flush out some ideas.
DB: How would you describe the music that you will be playing on Thursday?
TB: Well, live, as far as instrumentals go, we play a combination of songs off the first record and songs off the second record. The (Menahan) band is pretty famous for being sampled so much, so when we play the songs live, we like to play with that. We’ll do an extra drum break or extra horn break just to shine a light on the sample. We don’t play just the straight arrangements off the record; we have fun with it, and if somebody samples us we’ll do an ode to that sample.
Then we bring out Charles and we just set up the guy to hit a home run and he always does. We’re playing mostly songs off Charles’ old record, a couple cover songs that we’ve done over the years and we’ll be playing at least one new song that hasn’t been released yet. We’re hoping to play a couple new songs off the record that will be released in 2013. You’re going to get some of the old and the new with both groups.
DB: What are you most looking forward to about performing at UCLA?
TB: We’re all looking forward to this West Coast tour for many reasons. The last time we were in L.A. with Charles we played a small room. The jump to this UCLA gig is a pretty big jump, so I think we’re a little anxious. We’re hoping that the room is full because playing a small room that is jam packed is much more fun than playing a large room that is half empty … So hopefully the fact that we’re playing a big room doesn’t deter the music crowd from getting into it and going nuts because when the crowd is giving Charles energy, he will give it back.
DB: What goals do you have for yourself and the group going forward?
TB: I think we’ve been really lucky to make these records and tour them, and (the band’s career has) been growing. The way that I feel about it is that if people like the last Menahan record, they’re going to love the new Menahan record. There’s more depth, there are more stories in the music. Sonically it’s more beautiful, but it’s still rugged and still has all the qualities that the last record had. … The music that we make is not popular music. We spent 10 years paving the road just to get here. We know that there’s not really just a big pot of gold waiting for us. Basically, we’re just going to keep on making that road and keep on doing what we’ve been doing. That within itself is kind of the success for us.
Email Andrea Seikaly at email@example.com.